Hexbyte Glen Cove Testing AI fairness in predicting college dropout rate thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Testing AI fairness in predicting college dropout rate

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

To help struggling college students before it is too late, more and more universities are adopting machine-learning models to identify students at risk of dropping out.

What information goes into these models can have a big effect on how accurate and fair they are, especially when it comes to protected student characteristics like gender, race and family income. But in a new study, the largest audit of a college AI system to date, researchers find no evidence that removing protected student characteristics from a improves the accuracy or fairness of predictions.

This result came as a surprise to René Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science and director of the Future of Learning Lab.

“We expected that removing socio-demographic characteristics would make the model less accurate, because of how established these characteristics are in studying academic achievement,” he said. “Although we find that adding these attributes provides no empirical advantage, we recommend including them in the model, because it at the very least acknowledges the existence of educational inequities that are still associated with them.”

Kizilcec is senior author of “Should College Dropout Prediction Models Include Protected Attributes?” to be presented at the virtual Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Learning at Scale, June 22-25. The work has been nominated for a conference Best Paper award.

Co-authors are Future of Learning Lab members Hannah Lee, a master’s student in the field of computer science, and lead author Renzhe Yu, a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine.

For this work, Kizilcec and his team examined data on students in both a residential college setting and a fully online program. The institution in the study is a large southwestern U.S. public university, which is not named in the paper.

By systematically comparing predictive models with and without protected attributes, the researchers aimed to determine both how the inclusion of protected attributes affects the accuracy of college dropout prediction, and whether the inclusion of protected attributes affects the fairness of college dropout prediction.

The researchers’ dataset was massive: a total of 564,104 residential course- taking records for 93,457 unique students and 2,877 unique courses; and 81,858 online course-taking records for 24,198 unique students and 874 unique courses.

From the dataset, Kizilcec’s team built 58 identifying features across four categories, including four protected attributes—student gender; first-generation college status; member of an underrepresented minority group (defined as neither Asian nor white); and high financial need. To determine the consequences of using protected attributes to predict dropout, the researchers generated two feature sets—one with protected attributes and one without.

Their main finding: Including four important protected attributes does not have any significant effect on three common measures of overall prediction performance when commonly used features, including academic records, are already in the model.

“What matters for identifying at-risk students is already explained by other attributes,” Kizilcec said. “Protected attributes don’t add much. There might be a gender gap or a racial gap, but its association with dropout is negligible compared to characteristics like prior GPA.”

That said, Kizilcec and his team still advocate for including protected attributes in prediction modeling. They note that higher education data reflects longstanding inequities, and they cite recent work in the broader machine-learning community that supports the notion of “fairness through awareness.”

“There’s been work showing that the way certain attributes, like academic record, influence a student’s likelihood of persisting in might vary across different protected-attribute groups,” he said. “And so by including in the model, we can account for this variation across different student groups.”

The authors concluded by stating: “We hope that this study inspires more researchers in the learning analytics and educational data mining communities to engage with issues of algorithmic bias and fairness in the models and systems they develop and evaluate.”

Kizilcec’s lab has done a lot of work on algorithmic fairness in education, which he said is an understudied topic.

“That’s partly because the algorithms [in education] are not as visible, and they often work in different ways as compared with criminal justice or medicine,” he said. “In education, it’s not about sending someone to jail, or being falsely diagnosed for cancer. But for the individual , it can be a big deal to get flagged as at-risk.”

More information:
Renzhe Yu et al, Should College Dropout Prediction Models Include Protected Attributes?, Proceedings of the Eighth ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale (2021). DOI: 10.1145/3430895.3460139

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Adult coelacanth scales. Credit: Laurent Ballesta

Once thought to be extinct, lobe-finned coelacanths are enormous fish that live deep in the ocean. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on June 17 have evidence that, in addition to their impressive size, coelacanths also can live for an impressively long time—perhaps nearly a century.

The researchers found that their oldest specimen was 84 years old. They also report that coelacanths live life extremely slowly in other ways, reaching maturity around the age of 55 and gestating their offspring for five years.

“Our most important finding is that the ‘s age was underestimated by a factor of five,” says Kélig Mahé of IFREMER Channel and North Sea Fisheries Research Unit in Boulogne-sur-mer, France. “Our new age estimation allowed us to re-appraise the coelacanth’s body growth, which happens to be one of the slowest among marine fish of similar size, as well as other life-history traits, showing that the coelacanth’s life history is actually one of the slowest of all fish.”

Earlier studies attempted to age coelacanths by directly observing on the scales of a small sample of 12 specimens. Those studies led to the notion that the fish didn’t live more than 20 years. If that were the case, it would make coelacanths among the fastest-growing fish given their large size. That seemed surprising considering that the coelacanth’s other known biological and ecological features, including and low fecundity, were more typical of fish with slow life histories and like most other deep-water species.

In the new study, Mahé, along with co-authors Bruno Ernande and Marc Herbin, took advantage of the fact that the French National Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, MNHN) has one of the largest collections of coelacanths in the world, ranging from embryos in utero to individuals of almost two meters. They were able to examine 27 specimens in all. They also used new methods, including polarized light microscopy and scale interpretation technology mastered at IFREMER’s Sclerochronology Centre, Boulogne-sur-mer, France, to estimate individuals’ age and body growth more precisely than before.

While earlier studies relied on more readily visible calcified structures called macro-circuli to age the coelacanths much as counting growth rings can age a tree, the new approaches allowed the researchers to pick up on much tinier and nearly imperceptible circuli on the scales. Their findings suggest that the coelacanths actually are about five times older than was previously thought.

A coelacanth embryo with yolk sac from the MNHN collection. Credit: MNHN

“We demonstrated that these circuli were actually annual growth marks, whereas the previously observed macro-circuli were not,” Mahé says. “It meant that the maximum longevity of coelacanth was five times longer than previously thought, hence around a century.”

Their study of two embryos showed they were both about five years old. Using a growth model to back-calculate gestation length based on the size of offspring at birth, the researchers got the same answer. They now think that coelacanth offspring grow and develop for five years inside their mothers prior to birth.

“Coelacanth appears to have one of, if not the slowest life histories among marine , and close to those of deep-sea sharks and roughies,” Mahé says.

The researchers say that their findings have implications for the coelacanth’s conservation and future. They note that the African coelacanth is assessed as critically endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species of IUCN.

“Long-lived species characterized by slow life history and relatively low fecundity are known to be extremely vulnerable to perturbations of a natural or anthropic nature due to their very low replacement rate,” Mahé says. “Our results thus suggest that it may be even more threatened than expected due to its peculiar life history. Consequently, these new pieces of information on coelacanths’ biology and are essential to the conservation and management of this species.”

In future studies, they plan to perform microchemistry analyses on coelacanth scales to find out whether a coelacanth’s growth is related to temperature. The answer will provide some insight into the effects of global warming on this vulnerable species.

More information:
Current Biology, Mahé et al.: “New scale analyses reveal centenarian coelacanths Latimeria chalumnae” www.cell.com/current-biology/f … 0960-9822(21)00752-1 , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.054

Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected (2021, June 17)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Hubble data confirms galaxies lacking dark matter thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Hubble data confirms galaxies lacking dark matter

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NGC1052-DF2. Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Shen and P. van Dokkum (Yale University), and S. Danieli (Institute for Advanced Study)

The most accurate distance measurement yet of ultra-diffuse galaxy (UDG) NGC1052-DF2 (DF2) confirms beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is lacking in dark matter. The newly measured distance of 22.1 +/-1.2 megaparsecs was obtained by an international team of researchers led by Zili Shen and Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University and Shany Danieli, a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study.

“Determining an accurate distance to DF2 has been key in supporting our earlier results,” stated Danieli. “The new measurement reported in this study has crucial implications for estimating the physical properties of the galaxy, thus confirming its lack of .”

The results, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters on June 9, 2021, are based on 40 orbits of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, with imaging by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and a ‘tip of the red giant branch’ (TRGB) analysis, the gold standard for such refined measurements. In 2019, the team published results measuring the distance to neighboring UDG NGC1052-DF4 (DF4) based on 12 Hubble orbits and TRGB analysis, which provided compelling evidence of missing dark matter. This preferred method expands on the team’s 2018 studies that relied on “surface brightness fluctuations” to gage distance. Both galaxies were discovered with the Dragonfly Telephoto Array at the New Mexico Skies observatory.

“We went out on a limb with our initial Hubble observations of this galaxy in 2018,” van Dokkum said. “I think people were right to question it because it’s such an unusual result. It would be nice if there were a simple explanation, like a wrong distance. But I think it’s more fun and more interesting if it actually is a weird galaxy.”

In addition to confirming earlier distance findings, the Hubble results indicated that the galaxies were located slightly farther away than previously thought, strengthening the case that they contain little to no dark matter. If DF2 were closer to Earth, as some astronomers claim, it would be intrinsically fainter and less massive, and the galaxy would need dark matter to account for the observed effects of the total mass.

NGC1052-DF2. Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Shen and P. van Dokkum (Yale University), and S. Danieli (Institute for Advanced Study)

Dark matter is widely considered to be an essential ingredient of galaxies, but this study lends further evidence that its presence may not be inevitable. While dark matter has yet to be directly observed, its gravitational influence is like a glue that holds galaxies together and governs the motion of visible matter. In the case of DF2 and DF4, researchers were able to account for the motion of stars based on stellar mass alone, suggesting a lack or absence of dark matter. Ironically, the detection of galaxies deficient in dark matter will likely help to reveal its puzzling nature and provide new insights into galactic evolution.

While DF2 and DF4 are both comparable in size to the Milky Way galaxy, their total masses are only about one percent of the Milky Way’s mass. These ultra-diffuse galaxies were also found to have a large population of especially luminous globular clusters.

This research has generated a great deal of scholarly interest, as well as energetic debate among proponents of alternative theories to dark matter, such as modified newtonian dynamics (MOND). However, with the team’s most recent findings—including the relative distances of the two UDGs to NGC1052—such alternative theories seem less likely. Additionally, there is now little uncertainty in the team’s distance measurements given the use of the TRGB method. Based on fundamental physics, this method depends on the observation of red giant stars that emit a flash after burning through their helium supply that always happens at the same brightness.

“There’s a saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the new distance measurement strongly supports our previous finding that DF2 is missing dark matter,” stated Shen. “Now it’s time to move beyond the distance debate and focus on how such galaxies came to exist.”

Moving forward, researchers will continue to hunt for more of these oddball galaxies, while considering a number of questions such as: How are UDGs formed? What do they tell us about standard cosmological models? How common are these galaxies, and what other unique properties do they have? It will take uncovering many more dark-matter-lacking to resolve these mysteries and the ultimate question of what dark matter really is.

More information:
Zili Shen et al, A Tip of the Red Giant Branch Distance of 22.1 ± 1.2 Mpc to the Dark Matter Deficient Galaxy NGC 1052–DF2 from 40 Orbits of Hubble Space Telescope Imaging, The Astrophysical Journal Letters (2021). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac0335

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Mitochondrial ribosome assembly in 3D thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Mitochondrial ribosome assembly in 3D

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Honeybees show withdrawal symptoms when weaned off alcohol thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Honeybees show withdrawal symptoms when weaned off alcohol

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Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A team of researchers from Jagiellonian University and the Polish Academy of Sciences has found that honeybees fed a diet of alcohol-spiked food exhibit withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol is removed. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the group describes experiments they conducted with honeybees and why they believe their findings are relevant to treatment of alcoholism in humans.

Prior research has found that studying the habits of other creatures can lead to new insights into —such research has sometimes involved the study of addiction in other animals. In this new effort, the researchers wondered about the impact of alcohol on —in the wild they are quite often exposed to naturally occurring alcohol in nectar.

To learn more about how alcohol might impact honeybees, the researchers set up several beehives in an area where their diet was restricted to the food given to them by the research team. The food for the bees consisted of a type of . Once the hives were set up, the researchers added a small amount of alcohol to the sucrose, which was consumed by the . The team allowed the bees to live on the alcohol-spiked sucrose for a significant period of time—long enough for them to become hooked on it. They then made the bees quit cold turkey and monitored how they behaved.

The researchers found that after the alcohol was withdrawn, the bees that worked inside the hive began eating more of the sucrose than they had before and experienced a small increase in mortality rates—an indication that they had developed a dependence on the alcohol. The researchers then resumed adding alcohol to the sucrose but in higher amounts—in some cases, increasing the alcohol concentrations to 20%. The bees reacted much like humans, exhibiting impaired locomotion and problems with foraging and learning new tasks.

The researchers also found that the bees that went out foraging had a higher tolerance for alcohol than the worker bees who remained in the hive. They suggest this indicates that the foragers had developed a resistance to as they encountered it so often as part of their job.

More information:
Monika Ostap-Chec et al, Discontinued alcohol consumption elicits withdrawal symptoms in honeybees, Biology Letters (2021). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2021.0182

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Honeybees show withdrawal symptoms when weaned off alcohol (2021, June 16)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Study of mangrove rivulus fish hints at mechanism for brain evolution of land animals thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Study of mangrove rivulus fish hints at mechanism for brain evolution of land animals

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Rivulus cylindraceus Ejemplar macho de la Ciénaga de Zapata. Matanzas, Cuba. Credit: Cardet co6cs CC4.0

A pair of researchers at the University of Guelph has found that forcing mangrove rivulus fish to flip into the air regularly pushes them to develop more brain matter. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Giulia Rossi and Patricia Wright describe experiments they conducted with the amphibious fish, what they learned about them and why they believe their findings shed light on the first creatures to migrate to land from the sea.

Mangrove rivulus look a little bit like goldfish born without fins—they are native to the coasts of the Antilles and Florida. What makes them unique is their ability to flip themselves out of the water onto shore where they live on land for up to weeks at a time—they are able to do so by breathing through their skin. In this new effort, Rossi and Wright wondered if flipping themselves into a terrestrial environment might have an impact on their brains.

To find out, they conducted an experiment that consisted of capturing several of the fish and putting them in different environments. One group lived in a bowl filled with water for two months. Another lived in a bowl where the water was drained every few days—and the third group lived in a bowl of water but were pulled out a few times a week and set on a dry surface. Each was then poked with a pen to make it jump for three minutes.

After two months, half of the fish from each bowl were removed from their environments and had their brains dissected. After studying the brains of all the fish, the researchers found that those that had been forced to jump regularly experienced growth spurts in their dorsolateral pallium—a part of the fish brain involved in navigating new environments. The researchers then tested the other group by putting them in an underwater maze—working their way through it led to a tasty treat. The researchers found that the fish that had been prodded into jumping and the fish that had their water drained periodically did better than the fish in the -only bowl.

The researchers suggest their work hints at the possibility of an ancient sea creature developing a more sophisticated after jumping or crawling onto the shore—laying the groundwork for the development of terrestrial animals.

More information:
Giulia S. Rossi et al, Does leaving water make fish smarter? Terrestrial exposure and exercise improve spatial learning in an amphibious fish, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.0603

© 2021 Science X Network

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Malicious content exploits pathways between platforms to thrive online, subvert moderation thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Malicious content exploits pathways between platforms to thrive online, subvert moderation

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Malicious COVID-19 content (e.g. anti-Asian hate) exploits pathways between social media platforms to spread online. Credit: Neil Johnson/GW

Malicious COVID-19 online content—including racist content, disinformation and misinformation—thrives and spreads online by bypassing the moderation efforts of individual social media platforms, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports. By mapping online hate clusters across six major social media platforms, researchers at the George Washington University show how malicious content exploits pathways between platforms, highlighting the need for social media companies to rethink and adjust their content moderation policies.

Led by Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at GW, the research team set out to understand how and why malicious content thrives so well online despite significant moderation efforts, and how it can be stopped. The team used a combination of machine learning and network data science to investigate how online hate communities sharpened COVID-19 as a weapon and used current events to draw in new followers.

“Until now, slowing the spread of malicious content online has been like playing a game of whack-a-mole, because a map of the online hate multiverse did not exist,” Johnson, who is also a researcher at the GW Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics, said. “You cannot win a battle if you don’t have a map of the battlefield. In our study, we laid out a first-of-its-kind map of this battlefield. Whether you’re looking at traditional hate topics, such as anti-Semitism or anti-Asian racism surrounding COVID-19, the battlefield map is the same. And it is this map of links within and between platforms that is the missing piece in understanding how we can slow or stop the spread of online hate content.”

The researchers began by mapping how hate clusters interconnect to spread their narratives across social media platforms. Focusing on six platforms—Facebook, VKontakte, Instagram, Gab, Telegram and 4Chan—the team started with a given hate cluster and looked outward to find a second cluster that was strongly connected to the original. They found the strongest connections were VKontakte into Telegram (40.83% of cross-platform connections), Telegram into 4Chan (11.09%), and Gab into 4Chan (10.90%).

The researchers then turned their attention to identifying malicious content related to COVID-19. They found that the coherence of COVID-19 discussion increased rapidly in the early phases of the pandemic, with hate clusters forming narratives and cohering around COVID-19 topics and misinformation. To subvert moderation efforts by social media platforms, groups sending hate messages used several adaptation strategies in order to regroup on other platforms and/or reenter a , the researchers found. For example, clusters frequently change their names to avoid detection by moderators’ algorithms, such as vaccine to va$$ine. Similarly, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ clusters simply add strings of 1’s or A’s before their name.

“Because the number of independent social media platforms is growing, these hate-generating clusters are very likely to strengthen and expand their interconnections via new links, and will likely exploit new platforms which lie beyond the reach of the U.S. and other Western nations’ jurisdictions.” Johnson said. “The chances of getting all social media platforms globally to work together to solve this are very slim. However, our identifies strategies that platforms can use as a group to effectively slow or block online hate content.”

Based on their findings, the team suggests several ways for social platforms to slow the spread of malicious content:

  • Artificially lengthen the pathways that malicious content needs to take between clusters, increasing the chances of its detection by moderators and delaying the spread of time-sensitive material such as weaponized COVID-19 misinformation and violent content.
  • Control the size of an online hate cluster’s support base by placing a cap on the size of clusters.
  • Introduce non-malicious, mainstream content in order to effectively dilute a ‘s focus.

“Our study demonstrates a similarity between the spread of online hate and the spread of a virus,” Yonatan Lupu, an associate professor of political science at GW and co-author on the paper, said. “Individual have had difficulty controlling the spread of online hate, which mirrors the difficulty individual countries around the world have had in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Going forward, Johnson and his team are already using their map and its mathematical modeling to analyze other forms of malicious content—including the weaponization of COVID-19 vaccines in which certain countries are attempting to manipulate mainstream sentiment for nationalistic gains. They are also examining the extent to which single actors, including foreign governments, may play a more influential or controlling role in this space than others.

Malicious content ex

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Snails carrying the world's smallest computer help solve mass extinction survivor mystery thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Snails carrying the world’s smallest computer help solve mass extinction survivor mystery

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Partula (Partula) hyalina Broderip, 1832. Credit: CC0

More than 50 species of tree snail in the South Pacific Society Islands were wiped out following the introduction of an alien predatory snail in the 1970s, but the white-shelled Partula hyalina survived.

Now, thanks to a collaboration between University of Michigan biologists and engineers with the world’s smallest computer, scientists understand why: P. hyalina can tolerate more sunlight than its predator, so it was able to persist in sunlit forest edge habitats.

“We were able to get data that nobody had been able to obtain,” said David Blaauw, the Kensall D. Wise Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “And that’s because we had a tiny computing system that was small enough to stick on a snail.”

The Michigan Micro Mote (M3), considered the world’s smallest complete computer, was announced in 2014 by a team Blaauw co-led. This was its first field application.

“The sensing computers are helping us understand how to protect endemic species on islands,” said Cindy Bick, who received a Ph.D. in ecology and from U-M in 2018. “If we are able to map and protect these habitats through appropriate conservation measures, we can figure out ways to ensure the survival of the species.”

P. hyalina is important culturally for Polynesians because of its unique color, making it attractive for use in shell leis and jewelry. Tree snails also play a vital role in island forest ecosystems, as the dominant group of native grazers.

How Society Island snails were wiped out

The giant African land snail was introduced to the Society Islands, including Tahiti, to cultivate as a food source, but it became a major pest. To control its population, agricultural scientists introduced the rosy wolf snail in 1974. But unfortunately, most of the 61 known species of native Society Islands tree snails were easy prey for the rosy wolf. P. hyalina is one of only five survivors in the wild. Called the “Darwin finches of the snail world” for their island-bound diversity, the loss of so many Partula species is a blow to biologists studying evolution.

“The endemic tree snails had never encountered a predator like the alien rosy wolf snail before it’s deliberate introduction. It can climb trees and very quickly drove most of the valley populations to local extinction,” said Diarmaid Ó Foighil, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator of the U-M Museum of Zoology.

In 2015, Ó Foighil and Bick hypothesized that P. hyalina‘s distinctive white shell might give it an important advantage in forest edge habitats, by reflecting rather than absorbing light radiation levels that would be deadly to its darker-shelled predator. To test their idea, they needed to be able to track the light exposure levels P. hyalina and rosy wolf snails experienced in a typical day.

Field work in Tahiti shows P. hyalina can take 10x more light

Bick and Ó Foighil wanted to attach light sensors to the snails, but a system made using commercially available chips would have been too big. Bick found news of a smart sensor system that was just 2x5x2 mm, and the developers were at her own institution. But could it be altered to sense light?

“It was important to understand what the biologists were thinking and what they needed,” said Inhee Lee, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh who received a Ph.D. from U-M electrical and computer engineering in 2014. Lee adapted the M3 for the study.

The first step was to figure out how to measure the light intensity of the snails’ habitats. At the time, the team had just added an energy harvester to the M3 system to recharge the battery using tiny solar cells. Lee realized he could measure the light level continuously by measuring the speed at which the battery was charging.

After testing enabled by local Michigan snails, 50 M3s made it to Tahiti in 2017. Bick and Lee joined forces with Trevor Coote, a well-known conservation field biologist and specialist on the French Polynesian snails.

The team glued the sensors directly to the rosy wolf snails, but P. hyalina is a protected species and required an indirect approach. They are nocturnal, typically sleeping during the day while attached underneath leaves. Using magnets, the team placed M3s both on the tops and undersides of leaves harboring the resting P. hyalina. At the end of each day, Lee wirelessly downloaded the data from each of the M3s.

During the noon hour, the P. hyalina habitat received on average 10 times more sunlight than the rosy wolf snails. The researchers suspect that the rosy wolf doesn’t venture far enough into the forest edge to catch P. hyalina, even under cover of darkness, because they wouldn’t be able to escape to shade before the sun became too hot.

“The M3 really opens up the window of what we can do with invertebrate behavioral ecology and we’re just at the foothills of those possibilities,” Ó Foighil said.

The article in the journal Communications Biology is titled, “Millimeter-sized smart sensors reveal that a solar refuge protects tree snail Partula hyalina from extirpation.”

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Hexbyte Glen Cove China ready to launch first crew to new space station thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove China ready to launch first crew to new space station

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A Long March-2F rocket will carry the first crew to China’s new space station.

The first crew for China’s new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing’s ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The mission is China’s first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China’s Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter.

They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China’s longest crewed to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.

The astronauts will aim to “get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“It’s a practical goal rather than a groundbreaking one.”

The Long March rocket, with the Shenzhou craft attached, was moved to the at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center last week, according to the Chinese space agency.

Shenzhou-12 will dock with the main section of the Tiangong station, named Tianhe, which was placed in orbit on April 29. A cargo craft last month transported fuel, food and equipment for the crewed mission.

Factfile on China’s planned space station, scheduled to be operational by 2022.

Another 11 missions are planned over the next year and a half to complete the construction of Tiangong in orbit, including the attachment of solar panels and two laboratory modules.

Three of those missions will carry astronauts for crew rotation.

“Keeping the station up and running smoothly involves much detailed and complicated work, as we saw on the International Space Station during its early days,” said Chen Lan, an analyst at GoTaikonauts, which specialises in China’s space programme.

“In fact, ISS construction was much slower” than the Chinese station.

Once completed, Tiangong will have a mass of around 90 tonnes and is expected to have at least a 10-year lifespan, according to the Chinese space agency.

It will be much smaller than the ISS, and similar to the Soviet space station Mir, which was launched in 1986 and decommissioned in 2001.

China launched the core module of its new space station in April.

‘Building a great nation’

China has invested billions of dollars over decades to catch up with established space powers such as the United States and Russia.

It has so far sent humans into space, probes to the Moon, and last month landed a rover on Mars—a rare and prestigious space-faring achievement.

China’s desire for a human outpost of its own in Earth orbit was fuelled by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station, and it is now days away from placing the first crew on Tiangong.

State media reported in October last year that astronauts have been selected for all four crewed missions, but officials have been tight-lipped about their identities.

All 11 Chinese astronauts to date have been military pilots.

A long-term human presence in space would be a significant leap in China’s space programme.

China successfully landed a rover on Mars this year, the major achievement in its ambitious space programme.

President Xi Jinping called China’s space station a key step in “building a great nation of science and technology” after the launch of the Tianhe core module in April.

The International Space Station—a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan—is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.

It sets up a scenario where Tiangong could be the only operational space .

While China does not have specific plans to use it for international cooperation, its authorities have said they are open to foreign collaboration.

© 2021 AFP

China ready to launch first crew to new space station (2021, June 15)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Oil spill drifts away from Corsica coast thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Oil spill drifts away from Corsica coast

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Two French navy ships as well as some 80 members of the security and rescue forces have been drafted in to deal with the oil spill.

Fears two oil slicks would pollute eastern Corsica’s holiday beaches eased Saturday after French officials prepared for the worst and naval boats armed with clean-up equipment arrived off the Mediterranean island.

“We are more reassured now because the is drifting away from the coast,” maritime prefecture spokesperson Christine Ribbe told AFP.

“The pollution is breaking up and now about 10 kilometres (six miles) or so offshore. But we have to remain very careful because the situation can change with the currents.”

The authorities had voiced concern the oil would pollute the coast from Aleria to Ventiseri on Saturday and closed beaches along the 40-kilometre stretch and banned fishing.

Two naval ships, equipped with “anti-pollution material and specialised staff” were already picking up oil from the surface of the sea.

Some 80 members of the security forces and rescue services were also being drafted in to aid with any clean-up.

The heavy-grade oil, which said appears to have come from a ship cleaning out fuel tanks, was first detected around midday Friday during an aerial surveillance operation.

By Saturday, officials had detected two large slicks stretching over 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres), one 800 metres offshore, the other 3.5 kilometres.

Francis Giudici, mayor of Ghisonaccia, where the was closed, told AFP: “We are hoping we’ll avoid the pollution, but it will be complicated.

“There’s also been a lot of anger,” he said. “We really don’t need this at the start of the (holiday) season.”

France’s Minister for the Sea Annick Girardin told reporters: “We have come here determined to find those who” caused the oil spill.

“They are thugs and should be treated as thugs.”

Prosecutor Dominique Laurens said France’s maritime gendarmerie had opened an investigation and the polluting vessel would be identified.

© 2021 AFP

Oil spill drifts away from Corsica coast (2021, June 13)
retrieved 14 June 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-oil-drifts-corsica-coast.html

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part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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